It took a pandemic to stop Aurora’s string of boys basketball championships.
City programs had laid claim to the last five Class 5A state titles and had a good chance to win a sixth straight as Rangeview or Grandview would have played for the crown before the threat of coronavirus brought a premature end to the season within sight of the finish line.
Regardless of the result, the talent spread across the city was again remarkable and its reflected on the Sentinel Colorado 2019-20 All-Aurora Boys Basketball Team — as selected by the Sentinel from balloting of city coaches — which saw six players (and arguably more) play at a first team level.
With the season halted prior to the semifinals, Rangeview finished 26-0 — and on a 45-game winning streak dating back to last season — and needed just two wins to repeat as champions with a squad based more on balance, chemistry and depth than star power.
Seniors Obi Agbim and Christian Speller were two of the key ingredients for coach Shawn Palmer’s team, which hadn’t lost since the 2018 calendar year and showed no signs of slowing in this postseason with three wins by an average of 26 points.
Agbim came into the season expected to be a contributor after he asserted himself at key times as a junior, but by the end of the season, the 6-foot-3 guard had far exceeded expectations.
Agbim still possessed the outside shooting ability he showed previously (his 47 made 3-pointers ranked fifth among Aurora players), but his ability to attack and work off his teammates made him extremely difficult to contend with. The yet-uncommitted Agbim — who had the flare for jaw-dropping athletic plays — earned EMAC Player of the Year honors and averaged a team-high 13.3 points per game to lead a squad predicated on balance.
Agbim was also one of three Rangeview players averaging around 3.0 assists.
Like most Rangeview players — who gladly sacrificed numbers for winning — Christian Speller didn’t have the most eye-popping stats, but any Aurora coach would have wanted what the Metro State signee could contribute on a nightly basis.
Working on the intrinsic same page with fraternal twin brother Christopher and teammates he’d known for years, Christian Speller was a savvy finisher with the ability to score in many ways, which he used to average 10.7 points per game, second-best on his team and a career high for the four-year varsity player.
Speller, an All-EMAC first team selection, also contributed statistically more than he ever had as he led his team with an average of 5.4 rebounds per game and tied with Agbim atop the team at 3.0 assists per contest.
Two players that helped Grandview win a state championship as sophomores in the 2017-18 season — Caleb McGill and Lian Ramiro — had coach Michael Rogers’ Wolves (20-6) in position to win another one as seniors before the season was stopped.
McGill (see picture above), a Division I signee at UC Davis, set the tone for Aurora inside players with Overland’s Graham Ike sidelined for the season after an injury in the first game.
The 6-7 McGill was a top-five performer among Aurora players in both scoring (an average of 17.2 points per game that was fourth-highest among city performers) and a rebounding average of 7.1 boards per game that ranked fifth in Aurora. Throw in an average of 1.5 blocked shots per game and McGill — who had four double-doubles on the season — was a game-changer in every phase of the game.
McGill improved his scoring average from the previous season by nearly six points per game and did so in a variety of ways, including knocking down double-digit 3-pointers, which gave defenders another thing to be concerned about as was ability to handle the ball and find open teammates with passes.
Ramiro, a Colorado State-Pueblo signee, built off an impressive summer and had an outstanding season as a creator, scorer and compliment to McGill for the Wolves.
In his third varsity season with Grandview after transferring in before his sophomore season, Ramiro tallied a career-best average of 15.3 points per game — sixth-highest among Aurora players and the All-Centennial League first teamer led all Aurora players with 72 made 3-pointers. He had 55 in his first two seasons combined, but had a penchant making them in key situations this season, including several daggers at the end of quarters.
Ramiro also finished in the top 10 in 5A in assists with 4.5 per game, tied for third-best among city players, and led his team with an average of 1.5 steals per contest.
Smoky Hill (18-7) had the advantage of a four-year starter at point guard in Quinten Rock, who unfortunately could only watch from the bench at the end of the Buffaloes’ epic double-overtime Sweet 16 loss to Chaparral because of fouls.
When on the court, Rock was a matchup nightmare to defend for coach Anthony Hardin’s team and Aurora’s most pure scorer. With 2018-19 Colorado Gatorade Player of the Year Kenny Foster graduated, Rock picked up some of the scoring slack and finished as the only Aurora player to average more than 20 points per game (20.8 ppg). He was part of the top-producing duo in town as he and explosive junior Jalen Weaver (18.8 ppg) accounted for an average of nearly 40 points per contest.
Rock, a recent Fort Hays State commit, scored more than 30 points on three occasions, helped by the third-most made 3-pointers among city players with 63 (20 more than his previous career high).
Besides his penchant for scoring, Rock was one of the driving forces of the Buffaloes’ high-flying transition game and dished out many passes that ended in alley-opp dunks or wide-open 3-pointers. His average of 5.0 assists per game ranked second in Aurora, just 0.1 of a dime behind Eaglecrest senior Zion Ruckard, the final member of the All-Aurora first team.
Ruckard — a 6-foot point guard who just announced he is headed to Pomfret School prep school in Connecticut next year — had a huge season in helping coach Jarris Krapcha’s Eaglecrest team reach the Sweet 16 and win 17 games.
As mentioned, the first team All-Centennial League pick was Aurora’s leader in assists at 5.1 per contest and he also averaged a team-high 17.3 points, third-best among city players and an improvement of 7.2 points per game from the previous season. Ruckard knocked down 27 3-pointers — more than the 25 he made in 50 games combined as a junior and sophomore — and made it to the free throw line a career-high 90 times.
Ruckard also averaged 4.8 rebounds — which ranked second on the team from the point guard position — and a team-best 1.9 steals per game.
Second team: Aurora’s collection of talent was such as the four-member All-Aurora second team could certainly challenge the first unit, especially with first team all-league picks like Smoky Hill junior Jalen Weaver (Centennial League) and Rangeview senior Christopher Speller (EMAC) leading the way. Weaver brought Smoky Hill crowds to their feet all season with high-flying play around the rim, while he also connected on a career-best 38 3-pointers as he upped his scoring average by 7.7 points and also more than doubled his average of assists with 3.0 per game. Speller was another of the Rangeview players that valued team success over his individual numbers, but he still managed a double-digit scoring average (10.6 ppg), led the team in steals (2.3 spg) and blocked shots (1.0 bpg), while he was just off the assist lead at 2.9 per game and pulled down 4.3 rebounds per contest as well. Just as he did on the football field in the fall, Eaglecrest junior Ty Robinson was a highlight reel in the winter and averaged 13.3 points per contest on his way to second team All-Centennial League honors. In addition to throwing down some of the most acrobatic dunks in the state, he also tied for the team lead in 3-pointers with 41. Vista PEAK, the only other Aurora team to win 20 games other than finalists Grandview and Rangeview, had a deep cast that took its cues from the play of senior AJ Lacabe, an All-EMAC first teamer who led the Bison in scoring (12.1 ppg), rebounding (6.1 rpg) and assists (2.3 apg). A large number of deserving players split votes for the final second team spot and appear on a talent list of honorable mention All-Aurora picks.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports
2019-20 SENTINEL COLORADO ALL-AURORA BOYS BASKETBALL TEAM
Obi Agbim, sr., Rangeview; Caleb McGill, sr., Grandview; Lian Ramiro, sr., Grandview; Quinten Rock, sr., Smoky Hill; Christian Speller, sr., Rangeview; Zion Ruckard, sr., Eaglecrest
AJ Lacabe, sr., Vista PEAK; Ty Robinson, jr., Eaglecrest; Christopher Speller, sr., Rangeview; Jalen Weaver, jr., Smoky Hill
Maliq Alford, sr., Gateway; Ty Bergman, jr., Regis Jesuit; Laquan Bowie, sr., Aurora Central; Jaylen Carrizales, jr., Vista PEAK; Erick Covington, jr., Gateway; Xavion Davison, sr., Hinkley; Trevon Deden, sr., Overland; Joseph Editone, sr., Overland; Messiah Ford, sr., Aurora Central; DeAngelo Horn, jr., Smoky Hill; Graham Ike, sr., Overland (injured); Tjai Jackson, sr., Hinkley; Jeremiah Jordan, sr., Cherokee Trail; Sayo Owolabi, sr., Vista PEAK; Cade Palmer, jr., Rangeview; Alonzo Paul, jr., Regis Jesuit; Antwuan Smith, jr., Gateway; Arkeveis Smith, sr., Aurora Central; Blakeley Stoughton, jr., Regis Jesuit; Jeremiah Taylor, sr., Hinkley; Isaac Tesfaye, sr., Cherokee Trail; CJ Thomas, sr., Grandview; Teon Thomas, sr., Vista PEAK; Tre Titus, sr., Cherokee Trail; Vinni Veikalas, jr., Overland; Jeremiah Warren, jr., Hinkley; Tray Willard, sr., Aurora Central; DJ Wilson, sr., Gateway; Skylar Wilson, jr., Eaglecrest; Michael Wolf, jr., Regis Jesuit